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Visual Impairment :
Special Educational Needs

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Severe visual impairment is a profound disability and is an immense barrier to social interaction, communication, learning, mobility and independence. The rights of severely visually impaired children to education are the same as those of their sighted peers. There are many aspects of a visually impaired child's experience and treatment at school which are dsicriminatory due to his/her disability.

The provision necessary to ensure full access to the school curriculum and to the extended curriculum requires a considerable commitment from the local authority and school staff to plan a differentiated curriculum which contains work and topics which are completely accessible to a blind child, to train staff to understand the needs of the child and to give them time to adapt the curriculum, to provide the appropriate resources and equipment, to modify the environment to facilitate mobility, to provide support from specially trained learning assistants and to provide direct input from specialist staff and therapists. Delivering all of this in a mainstream school during the normal school day is like squeezing a quart into a pint pot. In many schools the extended curriculum is delivered by withdrawing the child from lessons so that the child does not get full access to the curriculum on a par with his/her sighted peers. The child suffers discrimination due to his/her disability.

In some cases children are excluded from activities available to sighted pupils because of their visual impairment, for example, they are excluded from school trips due to supervision problems, or from physical activities. Health and safety or "insurance" problems have been used to justify this.

VI pupils are occasionally harassed by staff, but harassment and victimisation comes more freqently from other pupils. Schools have a duty to stop this.

The Equality Act (2010) replaced the Disability Act, Race Relations Act and Sex Discrimination Act. It identifies 4 areas of discrimination that pupils with disabilities may face at school. These are :

Direct discrimination
Indirect discrimination
Discrimination arising from disability

The DfE guidance booklet,"The Equality Act 2010 and schools" gives excellent discriptions and explanations of the areas of discrimination.

Chapter 4, sections 4.7 to 4.11 have the following descriptions :

Direct discrimination

4.7 A school must not treat a disabled pupil less favourably simply because that pupil is disabled – for example by having an admission bar on disabled applicants.

4.8 A change for schools in this Act is that there can no longer be justification for direct discrimination in any circumstances. Under the DDA schools could justify some direct discrimination – if was a proportionate means of meeting a legitimate aim. What the change means is that if a school discriminates against a person purely because of his or her disability (even if they are trying to achieve a legitimate aim) then it would be unlawful discrimination as there can be no justification for their actions.

Indirect discrimination

4.9 A school must not do something which applies to all pupils but which is more likely to have an adverse effect on disabled pupils only – for example having a rule that all pupils must demonstrate physical fitness levels before being admitted to the school – unless they can show that it is done for a legitimate reason, and is a proportionate way of achieving that legitimate aim.

Discrimination arising from disability

4.10 A school must not discriminate against a disabled pupil because of something that is a consequence of their disability – for example by not allowing a disabled pupil on crutches outside at break time because it would take too long for her to get out and back. Like indirect discrimination, discrimination arising from disability can potentially be justified.


4.11 A school must not harass a pupil because of his disability – for example, a teacher shouting at the pupil because the disability means that he is constantly struggling with class-work or unable to concentrate.

Schools must make "reasonable adjustments" to ensure that a visually impaired pupil is not disadvantaged as a result of his/her disability. The reasonable adjustment may be modifications to the school site, provision of specialist equipment, modification of curiiculum materials and resources, providing additional specialist teaching or training (such as touch typing or independent living skills), making allowances in exams and assessments or providing support during school time

4.13 The duty to make reasonable adjustments applies only to disabled people. For schools the duty is summarised as follows:

  • Where something a school does places a disabled pupil at a disadvantage compared to other pupils then the school must take reasonable steps to try and avoid that disadvantage.

  • Schools will be expected to provide an auxiliary aid or service for a disabled pupil when it would be reasonable to do so and if such an aid would alleviate any substantial disadvantage that the pupil faces in comparison to non-disabled pupils.

If you think that there is discrimination at school

  • document the incident or incidents (dates, times and details). An individual incident might be considered minor and insignificant but a series of incidents shows a pattern which needs to be adressed.

  • ask for copies of the school's policies on accessibility and bullying. Schools are legally required to have these.

  • write to the head expressing your concerns, stating that the school is not acting in accordance with the Equality Act 2010

  • arrange a meeting at the school to try to resolve the issue

  • if the situation is unresolved contact the equality advisory and support service or lodge an appeal to the SEND tribunal.

  • If the discrimination is as a result of failing to implement provision in an EHCP you can contact the local government ombudsman.